[This is a guest post by an independent journalist journalist and in Kolkata]
How difficult is to make a choice between the Caligula and the powerful senators who plotted against him, purportedly to save Rome from the populist-turned paranoid emperor?
The question comes to one’s mind in view of the ongoing public spat between Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and a powerful section of Bengal media which has virtually likened her to a female (a non-libidinous also) version of Caligula. The row, that now involves pro and anti-Mamata media blocs also, has been triggered by a recent government order asking 2500 plus state-run and aided libraries to subscribe, initially, to eight pro-government newspapers —five Bengali, two Urdu and one Hindi— barring the market leaders in these segments. The circular of the state libraries and mass education department cited the ‘promotion of free-thinking’ as the reason behind favouring the chosen newspapers.
However, the issues involved are neither limited to Mamata’s increasing attempts to browbeat critical media as the aggrieved houses are complaining about nor her well-meaning effort to support ‘small’, resource-starved newspapers against their big brothers as she herself and beneficiaries of her patronage are claiming. A closer scrutiny reveals that there are more to it beyond the binary of Ora–amra (them and us), now part of Bengal’s political and media lexicon after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s infamous bragging over his government’s brute majority in the state assembly in order to rubbish all opposition to his policies.Continue reading Mamata’s order that stoked the media war: Independent Observer→
This public statement is for immediate release. Please see the names of the signatories at the end.
The news of continuous violence on a daily basis coming from West Bengal is deeply disturbing. Journalists have been attacked by the members of the ruling party, school teachers are being asked to prove their loyalty to the new ruling dispensation failing which they are being barred from doing their duty and are made target of systematic physical violence.
People suspected of affiliation with the CPM are facing extortion threats and cases have been reported where they have been denied access to the means of their livelihood. Legitimate oppositional politics is not tolerated. Not only are ordinary members of the CPM being attacked, even senior leaders are not spared . Recently an ex-MLA of the CPM along with another leader was killed in a mob-violence led by the members of the ruling Trinamul Congress. Processions are not allowed. There have been incidents of intimidation by the ruling party to the supporters of the recent bandh call given by different trade unions. Continue reading Stop the Cycle of Revenge and Violence in West Bengal→
Civil society, including human rights groups, in Bengal are now divided on Mamata Banerjee government’s ‘open and hidden’ conditions regarding the release of political prisoners who have been jailed during the Left front rule as well as talks with Maoists and Maoist-backed Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities in Bengal’s tribal hinterland, known as Junglemahal.
Mamata and her ministers have rejected the demands for unconditional release of all political prisoners, immediate withdrawal of joint forces from Junglemahal and public announcement on non-enforcement of the draconian central law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Maoists and PCPA have accused Mamata of eating up her pre-poll words on those demands. A large section in the human rights movement including the intellectuals and activists who actively joined the Mamata-led campaign for regime-change now supported these demands. But some of their fellow travellers have differed on political and legal grounds.
The differences revealed contradictions between the pre-poll and post-poll positions of Mamata as well as chinks in the armour of human rights groups on the attitude to the new government, Maoists and PCPA. Tension among all the stakeholders in the process— Mamata, Maoists, human rights groups and individuals— was well-known within the concerned circles for quite some time. But none of the stakeholders dwelt on it in public before the assembly polls when they had made common cause against the CPM, particularly, the atrocities by CPM-joint forces combine.
I would like to dwell on post-poll dilemmas and fissures in the pro-Paribartan civil society in Bengal later. But this piece is primarily aimed at reporting the increasing manifestations of the hitherto latent tension.
ममता की संघर्ष गाथा जीत का जश्न बन कर कोलकाता की जिस राइटर्स बिल्डिंग में प्रवेश कर रही है, उसके गलियारों में कुछ वक्त के लिए ही सही, सन्नाटा-सा तैर गया होगा। यादें उभर आई होंगी। चौंतीस साल का साथ पत्थरों तक के लिए कम नहीं होता। वे मूक दीवारें एक इतिहास की गवाह हैं। एक अपराजेय-से लगते लंबे दौर की; जिसने चुनावों के सात समंदर पार किए; अभेद्य लाल दुर्ग के तिलिस्म को खड़ा किया। अब लोकतंत्र में सबसे लंबे शासन का एक अंतर्राष्ट्रीय कीर्तिमान विदा हो गया। विदाई इतनी करुण और क्रूर कि पिछले मुख्यमंत्री विधानसभा की ड्योढ़ी तक नहीं पहुंच पाए। तैंतीस में से पच्चीस मंत्री विधानसभा से बेदखल हो गए। माकपा बंगाल विधानसभा में कांग्रेस से भी छोटी पार्टी हो गई।
2008 से एक के बाद एक पंचायत, संसद, नगरपालिका चुनाव हारने के कारण इस नतीजे में आश्चर्य की कोई बात नहीं बची थी। सड़क चलते राहगीर तक को पता था क्या होने वाला है। मगर व्यापक वाम से जुड़े बुद्धिजीवियों और पार्टी के भीतर के ही बौद्धिकों तक के आलोचनात्मक विश्लेषण माकपा की आंखें नहीं खोल सके। वाम मोर्चे को बंगाल में अपनी अपरिहार्यता के तर्क पर इतना यकीन था कि उसने अपने लिए आश्चर्य और धक्के का सृजन कर लिया। उसके लिए यह ‘अभूतपूर्व उलटफेर’ हो गया। आलोचकों को मुंहतोड़ जवाब देने की फितरत माकपा को आखिरकार जिस आश्चर्यलोक और रंजो-गम के गढ़हे में ले गई, उससे सावधान रहने की चेतावनी देते हजारों लेख अखबारों, पत्रिकाओं, ब्लॉगों में कदम-कदम पर बिछे थे।
It has to be seen and heard to be believed! Former Arambagh CPM(M) MP Anil Biswas Basu , addressing an election rally in his home turf likened Mamata Banerjee to a ‘whore of Sonagachi’, who is now getting rich clients from the US to give money for her election campaign! I draw attention to this with the greatest of respect for the women he is referring to, sex workers who work hard to make a living. When Basu refers to them, however, it nothing but a statement of misogynist contempt for women in public and reveals, once again the mindset of the Left leadership that rules West Bengal.
“Addressing a rally yesterday, Basu made references to Sonagachi — Kolkata’s red-light area. “Where is she getting the money from?” he asked. “From which bhatar (Bengali derogatory slang for a woman’s “illicit male partner”) did she get Rs 24 crore to fund the Trinamool Congress’s poll expenses?”
Saying that prostitutes in Sonagachi “do not even look at smaller clients” when they get a “big client”, Basu said now that the Trinamool has got a “big client” — the USA — to fund its poll expenses, it is not interested in the “smaller clients” from Chennai, Andhra Pradesh and other places in the country.”
With the coming assembly elections, West Bengal seems to be poised on the edge of a historic upheaval that will, in all probability, enter the collective memory of its people, much like the momentous 1977 elections. The most palpable moment of this churning will manifest in what looks like an unbelievable denouement – that of the thirty-four year old monolithic rule of the Left Front. Equally stunning might be the image of Mamata Banerjee, bringing the red fortress down – a politician, almost bludgeoned to death by CPI-M cadres on 16th August 1990, now transformed into the emblematic face of this extraordinary hour. The 2011 polls may be billed as the great unraveling of West Bengal, its politics and culture – but also, I think, of gender relations. Banerjee is on the verge of acquiring a unique status, becoming the first woman head of a state well known for its misogynist culture, notwithstanding many claims to the contrary.
An important aspect of Banerjee’s ascendancy may be lost if we fail to locate her persona within this grid of power and gender relations; if we do not contextualize her in Bengal’s thriving culture of male chauvinism. The association of West Bengal and its ruling Marxists with the autonomy and radicalization of women – who are supposedly respected in Bengal unlike in other parts of the country – is a well preserved myth. Bengal respects its women, but only if they belong to the hallowed league of ‘Mothers and Sisters’. Like elsewhere, ‘deviant’ women have little place in the land of the Renaissance.